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Memorial Day travel advice: Leave when you don't want to leave

Friday - 5/24/2013, 5:31am  ET

bay bridge (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Listen to WTOP Traffic to avoid the crowds at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Traffic guru Bob Marbourg: When is the best time to leave?

WTOP's Del Walters reports.

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WASHINGTON - If you are planning on taking to the roads this weekend you won't be alone.

An estimated 31.2 million of your closest friends also will cram onto highways this Memorial Day weekend, AAA reports. And while that's down significantly from 2005, when 37.3 million Americans drove more than 50 miles away from home, it's still a lot of vehicles.

AAA Mid-Atlantic said Wednesday it expects slightly more than 1 million Virginians to travel during the holiday weekend, down 1.6 percent from 2012.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Martha Mitchell Meade says some people have less money to spend this year because of automatic federal spending cuts and the expiration of the payroll tax cut.

WTOP Traffic Reporter Bob Marbourg has guided Washingtonians in and out of the Memorial Day madness for close to three decades. He says the big secret to hassle-free travel is leaving when no one else is on the road. That time is sometimes earlier and sometimes later in the day.

As a rule of thumb, Marbourg says pick a time you'd hate to leave the most. That's when you will find the roads the least congested. In other words, time-shift your travel plans.

"The only surefire way to miss the crowds is to think of the most unpleasant time to leave and get everybody in the car and do it then. It may be 3:30 in the morning. It may be 11:30 at night," Marbourg says.

Meanwhile, expect to pay more at the pump. Gas will cost slightly more this year. The national average price for a gallon of gasoline has risen 7 cents in the past week to $3.66 and could increase over the weekend. Gas averaged $3.64 last Memorial Day.

Still, the price isn't expected to reach the 2011 Memorial Day average of $3.79.

AAA estimates that another 2.3 million travelers will fly, down 8 percent from last year.

"American travelers are experiencing fee fatigue and frustration with everything from higher fares to airport security. As a result, many are choosing road travel," Robert L. Darbelnet, chief executive officer of AAA, said in a statement.

Another 1.3 million travelers are estimated by AAA to take buses, trains, ferries and other forms of travel, down 12 percent from last Memorial Day.

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